The city of the Sur-nah-him – Xurir had explained to her it was their only city during the walk – was…about what Crystal should have expected. Located in the center of a salt flat that kept the carnivorous tentacle plants and giant crawling amoebas at bay, she’d been hoping for one part of their life that wasn’t terrible – a city of wonder and comfort that the Sur-nah-him could recline and relax in.
Instead, it was as desperate and ramshackle as every other part of their lives. The city – they called it Na-hara, or “Refuge” – had no walls or real border, and instead was a ramshackle collection of towers made of petrified bone and sunbaked dirt. Because the salt flat was the only protection the city had from the horrors of their world, they clustered as densely in the center as they could, giving the whole thing a verticality that, when combined with the haphazard construction, made it look like a giant pile of bone that had been stacked by a toddler that got bored halfway though and went to play video games.
The Sur-nah-him inside were not any more encouraging – they looked at the returning party with haunted eyes, and whispers of “Goddess” began to spread among them. By the time they had wound their way up rickety bridges and reached the upper-central district, the pathways were completely deserted.
They’re that afraid of goddesses, where even the relatively wealthy and powerful hide. The fact that they had beings they thought of as goddesses gnawed at her – it shouldn’t be possible, not unless she created them. Which, despite her boast to Xurir, she didn’t. It didn’t worry her too much – as powerful as they might be to the Xurir, they had no hope of matching her within her own nanoverse. But what the hells were they?
The central tower, which served as the throne of their King – a word that in their language also meant “Least Forlorn,” was only more impressive than other structures because of its height. Crystal estimated they were a good thirty stories high at this point, which was impressive given what they were working with. The ramshackle city stretched out beneath them.
A voice intoned from within, “I beg of you enter, oh mighty goddess.”
Crystal did. Inside was a throne surrounded by Sur-nah-him. Every single Sur-nah-him was on the floor, laying prostrate with their hands over their head and shivering in terror. The King – identifiable only from being the only person wearing a shirt – lay next to the vacant throne.
“Oh, bloody hell, get up, the lot of you,” Crystal snapped as her virtually non-existent well of patience with their sniveling demeanor finally ran dry. They did, shambling quickly to their feet. It felt like watching the dead animate.
“Look, I’m getting real tired of this. I’m going to make your lives suck less, yeah? And while I’m at it, I’m going to kill the gods that are ruining your lives and probably make some new ones that also suck less. Maybe we’ll even get both up to good. But if you keep sodding looking at me like I’m going to snap your necks, there’s a good chance I’ll bloody well do it, yeah?”
She took a few deep breaths, once again trying to quell that need to destroy and dominate. It had infected her speech, she knew it, but oddly that seemed the help. While they still looked frightened, they at least looked less uncertain – like the threat at the end at least had them on familiar ground. She pointed at the King.
“You. Xurir’s been dealing with my cranky ass all day, so it’s your turn now. What should I call you?”
The King swallowed roughly. “I am Uepth, your worshipfulness.” Crystal’s brain translated his name as “offal,” and she fought back the urge to roll her eyes at the name.
“Great. Uepth. We’re going to start with the goddesses, then work on you lot.” She walked over and sat on the throne, which seemed to set them even more at ease. Man, it would be pathetically easy to break this lot to my…damnit, these thoughts are getting even more insidious. The way that urge to enslave them had snuck into her thoughts set her scowling again. “Now. How do you contact the goddesses?”
Uepth gulped again, before timidly speaking. “We…we do not, your worshipfulness. They come, as you do, when you will. It is not for us to call upon them.”
Crystal could nearly hear the silent “and why the hell would we want to” at the end of that. “Okay, fine. Fair. Then let’s see what we can do about your lives.” Plus, if they’re as nasty as I think they are, this should draw their attention.
She snapped her fingers. Every Sur-nah-him in the room shuddered, then began to pat themselves. “I’ve just fixed all your nutritional deficiencies. I’ve also made some changes to your metabolism – you’ll survive on a quarter of the food and water you needed before, loves. It’s a species wide change. I’ve also wiped out The Feasting Morasses – completely. Their niche is going to be filled by a few different life-forms now, including a predatory beast that you’ll find pretty easy to tame, so you’ll want to get on that, yeah? And the trees – what do you call them, the Grasping Hands of the Earth? Yeah, they won’t try to eat you anymore. Had to make a few new predators to fill that niche, but it’ll be better than what you had before.” They stared at her in stunned silence, and she smiled. “Oh, and look out the window.”
They did, and gasps sounded through the room. The salt flat had been replaced with a natural lake with a bridge crossing it. The now-still Grasping Hands sat on the edge of it, and now that they weren’t reaching to grab anything that moved too close, they just looked like odd blue pine trees.
“But…why?” Uepth finally asked after what was probably a few minutes of stunned silence.
Crystal sighed. “Because I’m a benevolent goddess. Because I let you lot suffer too long. And because I think it’s going to draw the goddesses out of hiding.”
“They come!” one of the Sur-nah-him shouted, pointing out the window.
Crystal actually laughed. “Damn, I don’t think I could have timed that better if I tried. Kind of nice when things work out your way.” She walked over to the window and looked out.
Three figures had appeared near the edge of the town, each clothed in black and purple armor. It looked futuristic, and for a moment, Crystal dared hope they were actually some intelligent species that had advanced faster than should have been possible.
Then the center one held up her fingers and snapped. The lake turned back into salt flats, and the trees began grabbing at the ground again. Crystal felt that need to destroy and control swell up within her again, accompanied by a rage that was entirely her own. Oh you uppity little twit. I’m going to set you right.
With a thought, she teleported to place herself in front of them, undoing their changes as she did. They started at her appearance. “You!” one of the exclaimed, getting a grin out of Crystal.
“What, did you think I’d let you run amok in here forever? Now – who the bloody hell are you, and -”
Crystal’s words were cut off when another of the three extended her hand, causing a column of earth to shoot up at hypersonic speeds from the ground and directly into Crystal’s chin. It snapped Crystal’s head back with such force that, had she been on Earth, it likely would have left nothing but a bloody smear on the stump of her neck from the impact.
Instead, Crystal rubbed her jaw and tilted her head back forward, letting it crack as she moved it back into place. “Okay, fine. You know what? I’m sodding done. You suck; you’re making my nanoverse suck. Let’s fight or whatever, I’ll pick the answers out of your corpses.”
As one, the three goddesses began to run towards her.